We showed our Porsche Club of America membership cards and were given free entry, thus saving €8 per person. I later returned the money by buying two Metropole Blue Porsche key fobs!
Since the factory tour began at 10 AM, we had almost a full hour to preview some of the magnificent cars on display in the museum. The cars are shown in chronological order in the evolution of the Porsche product line. We saw the very first Porsche car, and all subsequent variants thereafter.
Promptly, at 10 AM, we met in a group of approximately 15 people, and before leaving for the factory, all of our cameras and cell phones were collected, and placed in a plastic container until our return. We walked through various security gates, and entered the original, expanded plant in Zuffenhausen. Quaintly, one of the early
Reuter brick buildings is still maintained as a historical site where production of the 356 took place, in the 50’s. As demand increased, the plant grew to its present size. It is now maximized, as the area surrounding the factory has become a residential area, and further expansion is impossible. As well, only two shifts are permitted in this urban, populated area. All 911 production takes place here, though there were a few Boxsters coming down the line as well. However, most Boxster variants are made in the larger, Volkswagen Osnabruck plant. It is well known that this unique ‘split model’ assembly line was initiated with the help of Toyota consultation, in concert with ‘just in time’ parts distribution.
We were not given access to the body production facility, a highly robotic, precise assembly line, nor did we see the newly integrated paint factory, a €200 M ecological masterpiece! These are best viewed on a series of YouTube videos!
In our group, I immediately connected with two British gentlemen of my age, one of whom had a Porsche GT3. They live in Stevenage, a town in the industrial belt of England’s midlands. In the 70’s, I spent much of a year in England, riding Vincent motorcycles, which were manufactured in this very town. This created an immediate bond between us, and we laughed and joked throughout the tour, enjoying their wonderful, easy-going British humour.
As the tour was ending, they mentioned, that like us, they planned to visit the Mercedes Museum in the afternoon. I still wanted to spend more time in the museum with the Porsche cars, and they offered to return in one and a half hours, and we could drive to the the Mercedes Museum in their car. This was a divine opportunity for us, as the subway or taxi drive could take close to an hour, and since we had a 6 o’clock train to catch for our return to Munich, the visit to the MB museum would have been compromised. (more on this later!)
I had seen the Porsche assembly-line on YouTube, National Geographic MegaFactories. However, to witness the assembly process, literally within 5 feet of where I stood, was astounding. As an industrial designer and craftsman, I associated clearly with the design and fabrication process, and I have such respect for the engineers who conceive these very complex, well integrated pieces of machinery. The craftsmanship, the assembly sequence, and the multiple quality checks throughout the process are remarkable. Clearly, much of the elevated cost of these automobiles is the result of this extensive quality control.
Throughout the plant, robot sleds silently glide along the shop floor, ferrying parts to the various assembly stations. Each variant of car requires a specific collection of parts, and individualized baskets of parts are hand loaded in the general parts department. Once the sled is loaded, and bar coded, it follows the evolving car for which it is intended, supplying the unique parts as required, in precise sequence of assembly.
I marvelled at the engine assembly process. To see the bowels of the engine become enveloped in the crankcase, and all the attendant parts applied thereafter, was very dramatic. Watching the cylinder heads being assembled, with valves, springs, keepers and cams being inserted, was magical! It happened so fast.
It was fascinating to see the cars being created from the inside outwards, almost like looking at an exploded view parts drawing. All of the parts are pristine, dry, and free of fluids. The assembly is very logical, and one sees the ‘layers of the onion’ being created, gradually encapsulating the core of the automobile. The most dramatic moment occurs during the ‘marriage’ of the assembled body, and the engine, transmission and all suspension components, thus unifying the two separate assembly lines. Thereafter, a full car emerges, and moves down the line for further detail installations, as well as fluids, and eventual dynamometer testing.
As I watched this relentlessly moving line, I became very aware of the the reverse process encountered in the ‘real’ world. The ‘deconstruction’ of the onion!
Last year, one of the radiators on my car needed replacement. To access this part, the bumper was removed, with multiple clips and fasteners. There was some inner ducting to remove as well, thus exposing the air conditioner and radiator, both covered in road grime and organic detritus. Once cleaned, hoses were disconnected, fluids leaked, the heavy, fluid filled radiator was removed, and a new radiator was installed. Thereafter, the reassembly process began. It took over 3 hours to complete. Standing on the shop floor, five feet from the assembly line, as the next car approached, I saw a cart magically appear bearing a right and left radiator. Clean and light, the mechanic positioned them one handed, and inserted the bolts to hold them in place. It took less than a minute to do so! Imagine the enormous task a mechanic faces in removing an engine, and then rebuilding it. I now have so much greater respect for this skill and the difficulty of such a project.
While touring the factory, I was terribly frustrated by the ban on photography, as I knew this unique experience would soon end, and much of the exquisite visual detail would be forgotten. Fortunately, the museum had no such restrictions.
The Porsche museum is truly marvellous. To see the evolution of the iconic cars that evolved from the fertile mind of Ferdinand Porsche, and to witness the skill of the craftsmen who built them, one at a time, was really inspiring. The racing cars were magnificent. I have followed auto racing all of my adult life, reading Road & Track as a teenager. Though I was familiar with photos and models of many classic Porsches, to see and touch some of these famous, triumphant cars in their pristine physicality, was really a wonderful, magical experience.
917-30 CLOSED COURSE RECORD HOLDER – 1,500 HP!